BBC investigation reveals extent of English counterfeit trade

The extent of the English black market in counterfeit goods has been revealed in a BBC News investigation, which shows confiscations of fakes increased 76% between 2014 and 2015.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the broadcaster sought records from the councils in England’s 10 most populated cities – London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, although not all councils responded.

The figures revealed that Manchester, Birmingham and Newham in east London were the worst areas for counterfeit goods, and that clothing and accessories made up almost a third of all goods seized, followed by mobile phone accessories.

Other fake goods seized included: The Beats headphones endorsed by rap artist Dr Dre, fake branded chocolate bars and shampoos, phone covers, counterfeit tobacco and e-cigarette liquid and pirated DVDs. Fake perfume and cosmetics, electrical goods, alcohol and vehicle parts and accessories were other items seized.

In recent times there have been resource cuts in tackling counterfeiters while the presence of fake goods on the UK market has risen, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Counterfeiting Group told the BBC.

"The criminal gangs that make these products have no regard for health or safety and as such, products are not being tested to the high UK standards and are therefore potentially lethal to the British consumer… We would like to see a change in strategic priorities by recognition of the link between organised crime and counterfeiting," the spokeswoman said.

The findings revealed by the BBC News investigation highlight that the counterfeit trade is not small scale. For instance, more than 6,500 sets of fake Beats headphones or ear buds were seized since 2013 across seven of the 10 cities, while 25,600 items of fake clothing, including fake D&G and Hugo Boss brands, were seized from Manchester's Cheetham Hill. In Birmingham, 15,693 items of clothing, valued at £156,930, and more than £35,000 worth of counterfeit tobacco items were confiscated. And in Greenwich, a copy of a £39,000 women's Rolex gold watch was seized, the highest value item recorded in the investigation.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Counterfeiting Group launched its 2016 Manifesto, which laid out a number of recommendations to improve the response to IP crime, including placing IP crime as an immediate political priority, developing an IP enforcement body, and raising awareness of counterfeit trade among business and the public. The group urged more collaborative work, focussing on both online and physical environments, to deter counterfeiting.

Figures from surveys, cited by the BBC, show that 24% of people have knowingly bought counterfeit goods and 21% would do so to save money.

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